Amid coronavirus response, Congress must support parks and open-space fund

By:  Seattle Times Editorial Board
Source: The Seattle Times

As Congress provides economic support amid the coronavirus pandemic, it should also fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund and a backlog of National Parks maintenance work.

Before the virus crisis spread in the U.S., Congress was moving toward fully funding these programs to support outdoor recreation, parks, forests and waterways. Even President Donald Trump tweeted his support on March 3, after earlier cutting the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) in his budget proposal.

The need is even greater today. After the current isolation and self-quarantines pass, parks and open spaces will be a much needed tonic.

Fully funding LWCF is also a low-cost economic stimulus that will reach all corners of the country, yielding direct and indirect benefits. It supports outdoor recreation that generated more than $887 billion in annual consumer spending and supported 7.6 million jobs in recent years, according to the Outdoor Industry Association.

“No one can overestimate the value this brings to American citizens,” said U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington.

The LWCF, introduced by Washington’s late U.S. Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson and passed in 1964, is terrific policy.

Using a share of federal oil and gas royalties, it funds natural resources across the nation, including parks, pools, trails and open space.

In Washington state, this helped fund nearly 300 recreation facilities and preserve 120,000 acres of open space. That includes some 5,000 acres and public access sites along the Skagit River, support for the Yakima Basin water management and environmental restoration project, and protection of lands along the Pacific Crest Trail, at Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area and repairs and improvements to Mount Rainier National Park.

But for years the national fund was skimmed off for other purposes, leaving it $22 billion short.

Cantwell championed the fund in recent years, leading a bipartisan effort to permanently authorize its funding in 2019.

This year she’s co-sponsoring the Great American Outdoors Act to permanently allocate the fund’s full, yearly $900 million allocation, so it’s not vulnerable to budget maneuvers.

The bill, introduced March 9, would also allocate $6.5 billion to the National Park Service and $1.425 billion to the Forest Service over the next five years.

Congress should quickly approve the Great American Outdoors Act and ensure perpetual investment in treasured parks and public lands. This is a low-cost, low-risk way to invest in economic growth and provide vast and immeasurable benefits for future generations.